from Shreyas Nadubail
with inputs from Richard Lasrado
Sullia: Meera Balakrishna (76), a rich planter from Aivarnad near here, had been murdered by strangulation by a group of five men four years ago. Nothing was known about the identity of the killers or the motive for murder.
Finally, the mystery has been cracked and four of them have been arrested this week. Another has been absconding.
After the death of her husband Nidyamale Muddappa Balakrishna - famously known by his initials 'NM' - Meera managed her sprawling 130-acre estate 'Greenland' at Aivarnad alone. Her son Sandeep had died of brief illness some years ago.
N M Balakrishna, son of judge Nidyamale Muddappa, was a highly respected social figure and political leader in Aivarnad. He was very close to the late MP J M Lobo Prabhu, who was responsible for the popularity of the Swatantra party founded in the late 1960s by the former governor-general of India and former chief minister of Madras state, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari.
Balakrishna was largely responsible in the Swatantra party's taking roots in Sullia and other parts of Dakshina Kannada. During the party's heyday, it had won two assembly seats - Ratan Kumar Kattemar from Moodbidri and Ramachandra Attavar from Sullia.
The Balakrishna couple's two daughters Jyotsna and Aparajita have been living at distant places after their marriage. Their only son Sandeep died a few years ago. Meera was looking after the estate herself.
Ever since she was murdered on a fateful morning on March 2, 2008, the case had remained shrouded in mystery. Five persons are said to have entered the house around 7-30 am and strangled Meera to death. When housemaid Vimala came screaming, she too was overpowered until she fainted. There were signs of rummaging the place as if the culprits were looking for some records. All cash and gold had remained intact.
This factor kept the rumour-mills busy with stories that the family members were involved in the crime. But they were proved baseless.
A driver who had worked earlier with them was first suspected. He was interrogated but there was no clue available. Since there was no male member in the family, the investigation went on at a snail's pace. The residents of Aivarnad even staged road-blocks and rallies demanding inquiry.
Daughter Jyotsna was disappointed with the pace of the investigation and she left no stone unturned to get the case cracked, by appealing to chief minister and top police officials. When nothing worked, she filed a petition in the high court seeking a corps of detectives (CoD) inquiry.
The director general of police himself appeared in the court and assured quick action. Finally, the case was handed to the CoD on June 6, 2011. The CoD investigated the case all over again and got a former rubber-tapper Shivaraj, housemaid Vimala and two others to undergo narco-analysis. Yet, there was no breakthrough.
Liquor 'in', secret 'out'
The culprits had left their homes and were working separately in different places to avoid action. Since suspicions were looming around the family members, all the five joined in a bar in Sullia in May this year in kind of a 'reunion' to 'celebrate' their having got off the hook. In a drunken binge, they discussed their escape from the dragnet of law, which was overheard by undercover police informers sitting in the next cabin.
Surveillance was kept on them and finally four of them were arrested. They are Shivaraj (35), who was doing the latex-tapping at the estate of the deceased, but later moved to the Tamil colony in Bellare, Mahaveera (37) from the Tamil colony in Sonangeri, Deviprasad of Paichar and Ravi Poojary, an Airtel SIM dealer in Sullia. But the mastermind is said to be Roshan of Madikeri, who stayed with his grandmother's house in Sonangeri until now. He is said to be absconding after the police swooped on the others.
Planning and execution
Shivaraj was aware that Meera had kept large amounts of money and gold ornaments weighing a kilogramme at home. Earlier during the week of the murder, she had drawn money from a bank in Sullia and kept it at home, which also was known to Shivaraj.
All the five got together in Bellare on March 1, 2008. After watching a kabaddi match there, they bought a coir rope from a shop. They also bought a rose water bottle from a fancy goods shop in Bellare to be used at the murder spot so that the sniffer dogs would not get the trail.
As planned, they arrived at the Greenland estate early in the morning on March 2, 2008. Shivaraj was a familiar person for the dog at the gate, which is said to have wagged its tail and kept quiet. He also threw biscuits at it so that it would not bark.
The five of them entered the house. As Meera was walking down the stairs, the group caught hold of her and strangled her. At the time of interrogration, they have said that they only wanted to make her immobile and had no intention of killing her.
Vimala, the housemaid, arrived at that point and screamed. She too was beaten up until she fainted. Shivaraj also knew that the mistress of the house always fixed the keybunch on her waist. They pulled it out and went upstairs to open the locker. They tried to break it open but failed. Carrying it all the way out needed more persons and it would have exposed their plan.
In the meantime, Vimala gained consciousness and screamed for help. The culprits developed cold feet and fled.
This case, which had remained a mystery ever since, has finally been unravelled. Circle inspector Sudarshan, head constable Tirthaprasad Uluvaru, ASI Kushalappa Gowda and constables Harish Nakra, Naveen and Yogita did a commendable job in a well-coordinated mission.